Keeping winter germs at bay


Winter is upon us again, and with it comes cold and flu season. Cold temperatures dont cause colds, but they can make us more susceptible to infections. 
You can greatly reduce your risk of catching a cold or, more seriously, the flu, with some simple prevention techniques. 

Consider getting a flu shot: Available from your doctor, and offered by many pharmacies and workplaces, this annual vaccination will protect you against the strains of influenza that are most active this year. While its not a 100-percent guarantee, the vaccination provides a lot of protection. 
Wash your hands frequently: Cold and flu germs spread easily through handshakes, hand-holding and handling food. Washing your hands will remove the germs, protecting you and those you come into contact with. 
Get plenty of sleep: Adequate rest keeps your immune system strong. 
Eat your fruits and vegetables: Theyll provide vitamins and minerals your body needs to fight infection.
Keep yourself warm and dry: Wear a scarf in cold weather. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Get snow boots to keep your feet dry.
Limit alcohol use: Too much alcohol weakens your defenses.
Manage your stress: That too can reduce your ability to stave off infection.
Use herbal enhancements: Several herbs are thought to have immune-boosting properties, including astragalus and several types of mushrooms, including shiitake, maitaki and reishi. 

Cough cough, sniffle sniffle
If your prevention efforts fail, you have some options to hasten recovery. 
First, the old advice is good advice. Get rest, stay hydrated. Here are a few other, lesser known, ideas. 

Vitamin C: When youre sick, you need high doses 1,000 mg three times a day. It enhances the function of your bodys killer cells. 
Echinacea:  Some research suggests that the purpura species of echinacea can shorten the duration of a cold by a day or so. Dont use it if youre allergic to ragweed.
Elderberry: Studies have shown elderberry, available in a product called Sambucol, to shorten the duration of a flu by up to 56 percent.  
Oregano oil: This herb may have some antiviral effect, but there are no real studies to back up the claim. 

Fever pitch
The symptoms of colds and flu, including fever and nasal congestion, are the effects of your body fighting the infection. Be careful about taking medicines to reduce fever or clear up a runny nose you may be lengthening your recovery time in the bargain. 
In general, leave your fever alone unless it rises above 104F. If you do treat it, try to bring it down to 101 or 102, not all the way to its normal level. Youll recover faster if you let your body do what it needs to do to fight off the invading microbes. 
When in doubt, consult your doctor to determine if you really need to treat the fever. 
A runny nose is your body flushing out the germs. Taking medicine to dry up the flow will impede your bodys disease-fighting process. You can help your body by using a saline nasal wash to flush mucous out of your nasal passages, shedding the viral particles faster. 

Dr. Steinmetz is a board certified family medical doctor based in Alexandria who uses both conventional and integrative practices. She welcomes reader questions at